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Contra: Shattered Soldier
Review By:  J. Michael Neal
Developer:  Konami
Publisher:  Konami
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Shooter
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  1-27-03

Contra: Shattered Soldier is exactly what a remake should be. It stays true to the original series in all the right ways, while improving on the core formula enough to keep it fresh and exciting. It improves on the classic 2D Contra gameplay by including two handy new functions, the lock weapon and lock character buttons, and changing the weapons system, while taking advantage of the current hardware by showing off some flashy visuals and rich sound. But be forewarned, though, that Contra: Shattered Soldier is the most difficult game released in the past 10 years and will definitely give veteran Contra players a few flashbacks.

If you remember the 8-bit days, you will remember Contra. This quarter munching arcade game stormed its way onto the NES, and into our living rooms, defying us to complete the game with just three lives and three continues. Of course the wiser of us would just put in the classic "Konami code" and get ourselves 30 extra lives, but even so the game was close to impossible to beat. Well, that demon of a game is back and this time it is more exciting, and more brutal, than every before.

This is the first major 2D return the franchise has seen since Super C for the SNES. Well, ok, the game levels and character models are actually 3D, but you only every see two dimensions of them. Anyway, it still uses the classic formula of side-scrolling, mild platform jumping, and frantic non-stop shooting that the first Contra perfected, even though weapon pick ups have been abandoned in favor of a fixed selection of weapons. Both characters begin and end the game with a machine gun, flamethrower, and grenade launcher, each with infinite ammo and an alternate fire function. Each weapon is better suited for different situations, and you will often need to rapidly switch between them all in order to stay alive. And trust me, staying alive is much easier said than done.

Shattered Soldier is one of the hardest games to come out in a very, very long time. Once again the series pits you against an endless assault of onscreen hazards as you try to make it from one end of the level to the other in one piece. You will need to perfect your run through each level in order to make it through the gameís six stages using only three lives and three continues (one sitting, no saves), and that will take some serious trial-and-error to do. Even though the game is brutal, it never gets frustrating, at least not for veteran old-school gamers, but you will need to limber up your thumbs. They havenít been worked this hard in years! Younger, greener, soldiers will probably have a hard time handling SS and may find the game too difficult. Luckily for them the 30 live code makes a return, but once again even that extra boost wonít make the game much easier.

The most useful weapons at your disposal are actually the lock weapon and lock character buttons. In order to survive in this game you will have to learn how to use them well. The lock weapon button works like the side-scrolling equivalent of the strafe button, it lets you to shoot in a fixed direction while moving freely with the analog stick (or directional pad if you choose). The lock movement button does the exact opposite; it lets you shoot in any direction without moving on screen. You will probably use these buttons just as much as shoot and jump. It gives you a high degree of control over your movement and attack patterns, and considering that this game is all about memorizing enemy patterns and dodging hazards, you will need all the control you can get.

Not all of Contra: SS is side scrolling. Often, throughout the game, the action will shift into a forward scrolling sequence, or a Gradius-style flying sequence, or something similar, and liberally scattered throughout each level are mini-boss encounters of all shapes and sizes to keep gamers on their toes.

The graphics in this game are tight. The visuals arenít necessarily eye-pop, but its worth the sacrifice to keep the steady frame rate this game has. You donít want any slow down while trying to avoid laser beams and flame throwing robotic ninjas. The only problem with the graphics is that the character modes for players one and two look too similar. Gone are the days of Bright Red Guy and Bright Blue Guy, sticking out like sore thumbs. Greenish Brown Guy and Brownish Green Girl have replaced them. And with all the action on screen at once, and two people that look almost identical hopping and shooting all over the screen, it is easy to get confused and watch the wrong character as you loose on of your precious lives somewhere across the screen.

The audio in the game is equally tight. The music is cool. Its standard metal fair, but it goes with the mood of the game. Itís nothing spectacular, its no Meshuggah or anything, but you will definitely find yourself rocking to the beat. The sound effects are very nice; lots of explosions, louder explosions, much louder explosions, deafeningly louder explosionsÖ you get the idea.

Contra: Shattered Soldier is a great game. In fact, you could call it a breath of fresh air. A white knuckle, teeth kicking, side-scroller is so old itís new. It makes a great two-player game and provides tons of replay value considering that it will take you months of practice to get good enough at the game to beat it in one sitting. Players who frustrate easily or arenít adept at side-scrolling shooters from lack of experience may want to stay at a safe difference. Anyone looking for a classic romp through the land of emotionally crushing challenge should step right on up and give this remake the attention it deserves.

HIGHS:

  • Perfect remake of Contra.
  • Controls work perfectly, great use of the new "lock" buttons.
  • Nice level variety.
  • Hard as all hell, but in a good way.
  • Great frame rates.
  • Soundtrack is pretty cool.

LOWS:

  • Characters look so similar that two-player games can get confusing.
  • Might be a little too hard.

FINAL VERDICT:

Fans of classic gaming, two-player insanity, and ass-kicking challenges shouldnít have to think twice about this game. Everyone else should try not to let this game make them cry in frustration.

Overall Score: 9.4

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